Migrant boat capsizes near Puerto Rico, leaving 11 dead, officials say – The Washington Post

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A makeshift boat overloaded with migrants capsized Thursday on its way to Puerto Rico, officials said, leaving at least 11 people dead as dozens more were rescued.

“We’re hoping to find additional survivors,” Ricardo Castrodad, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard’s San Juan sector, said Thursday night. “But it could go both ways.” He said it is not clear how many people were on the packed boat. Crews did not see any life jackets, he added.

A Customs and Border Protection air crew spotted people in the water around noon, officials said. Authorities said the boat was found about 10 nautical miles north of Desecheo Island — a patch of land in the Mona Passage, the strait between Puerto Rico and the Caribbean island that includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The vessel is “suspected of taking part in an illegal voyage,” the Coast Guard said in a news release. An increasing number of migrants have made similar treacherous journeys by sea, fleeing countries where the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated long-standing problems of poverty and violence.

Thirty-one survivors — 11 women and 20 men — were taken to Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla, a town in northwestern Puerto Rico, said Jeffrey Quiñones, a regional spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. He said the boat departed from the Dominican Republic but added that only two survivors are from that country.

Those rescued include eight Haitians who were transported to a hospital in Aguadilla, Quiñones said.

Betsy Rivera, spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s Institute of Forensic Sciences, said the agency received 11 bodies, after initially saying 13. It did not yet have identities or nationalities for the deceased. Autopsies will take place Friday, and the agency hopes to extract DNA to identify the dead.

The institute has been in touch with the Dominican Human Rights Committee, an organization it typically contacts in these types of incidents to help identify family members on the neighboring island.

Puerto Rico has a large Dominican population, and illegal sea crossings are common. Videos circulated on social media capture migrants arriving on popular beaches, where locals sometimes welcome and cheer them on as they run from authorities.

But the crossings can be perilous. Last week, a woman died after a boat capsized during an illegal voyage through the Mona Passage. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Dominican navy rescued an additional 68 people after spotting them “consistently bailing water out from the makeshift vessel,” officials said.

“This case highlights the dangers of illegal voyages aboard makeshift and grossly overloaded vessels in the Mona Passage,” Capt. José E. Díaz, acting commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan, said in a statement Saturday.

Castrodad said the kind of vessel that capsized Thursday is known as a “yola” — a boat with “poor construction, always taking on water, unseaworthy and designed to try to just get these people across in one attempt.”

The boats can be hard to detect, he said, so it was fortunate that Customs and Border Protection crews spotted the emergency.

Officials said they are working to interview the survivors and learn more about the situation.

Increasing numbers of Dominicans and Haitians have been intercepted in Puerto Rico and in the Mona Passage on “illegal voyages” in recent years, according to Coast Guard data. In fiscal 2021 — which ran from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021 — the Coast Guard intercepted 463 Dominicans and 15 Haitians.

Fifty-three such voyages were intercepted by the Coast Guard and its partner agencies from Oct. 1 of last year to March 31. Some 1,308 migrants — including 940 Dominicans and 298 Haitians — were apprehended, the Coast Guard said.

According to Coast Guard data, 1,527 Haitians, 742 Dominicans and 838 Cubans making illegal voyages were intercepted in Florida and the Caribbean in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2021.

But those totals undercount the number of people attempting to enter the country. The nonprofit Minority Rights Group International said about 30,000 of 100,000 Dominicans living in Puerto Rico are believed to be undocumented. Most of those immigrants remain on the island rather than going on to other parts of the United States, the nonprofit said.

In Haiti, deepening turmoil has led to a steady uptick in migration. Last year’s combination of a deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse sent thousands fleeing to the United States — by land and by sea.

Since then, authorities have reported an influx of vessels carrying upward of 200 people heading to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the United States. The Coast Guard is now on track to intercept 15 times as many Haitian migrants this year as it did in fiscal 2020, The Washington Post reported.



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